Immunoglobulin A (IgA) nephropathy is the most prevalent form of glomerulonephritis worldwide. A renal biopsy is required for an accurate diagnosis, as no convenient biomarker is currently available. We developed a serological test based upon the observation that this nephropathy is characterized by undergalactosylated IgA1 in the circulation and in mesangial immune deposits. In the absence of galactose, the terminal saccharide of O-linked chains in the hinge region of IgA1 is terminal or sialylated N-acetylgalactosamine. A lectin from Helix aspersa, recognizing N-acetylgalactosamine, was used to develop an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay that measures galactose-deficient IgA1 in serum. The median serum lectin-binding IgA1 level was significantly higher for 153 Caucasian adult patients with IgA nephropathy without progression to end-stage renal disease as compared with that for 150 healthy Caucasian adult controls. As the lectin-binding IgA1 levels for the controls were not normally distributed, the 90th percentile was used for determination of significant elevation. Using a value of 1076 U/ml as the upper limit of normal, 117 of the 153 patients with IgA nephropathy had an elevated serum lectin-binding IgA1 level. The sensitivity as a diagnostic test was 76.5%, with specificity 94%; the positive predictive value was 88.6% and the negative predictive value was 78.9%. We conclude that this lectin-binding assay may have potential as a noninvasive diagnostic test for IgA nephropathy.